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Selecting a creative director

The NZIA’s request for expressions of interest in the role of creative director for the New Zealand pavilion at the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale attracted 26 entries.

This was a good response, considering this was a first-time effort and there was a six-week deadline for submissions. Respondents were asked to submit a brief proposal outlining the exhibition concept, nominating the creative team and support structure and stating the experience and capability of the creative director. As a condition of eligibility, creative teams had to include an architect registered in New Zealand.

Prospective creative directors assembled teams combining a wide range of skills. As well as practicing architects, many teams included architecture academics and students. Landscape architects, artists, writers, graphic designers, gallerists, 3D animators and construction and logistics specialists were also present in many of the creative teams.

The NZIA nominated a jury to choose a shortlist and then select a winning entry. The jury comprised NZIA 2014-15 president Pip Cheshire (Cheshire Architects), Patrick Clifford (Architectus), Kerstin Thompson (Kerstin Thompson Architects, Melbourne, and VUW School of Architecture) and Associate Professor Tony van Raat (Unitec).

Ms Thompson recused herself from considering one submission – she was related to a team member – and when that submission made it to the shortlist, she withdrew from the jury. She was replaced by Christina Barton, director of the Adam Art Gallery (VUW). 

Selection criteria considered by the jury included: the strength and quality of the proposed exhibition concept and its alignment with the Biennale theme; the ability of the creative team to deliver the exhibition concept; and the scope of the exhibition to travel nationally and internationally.

The shortlist

While the exhibition proposals generally headed towards Koolhaas’ theme of “Absorbing Modernity” they did so via a few different routes. 

In the main, the proposals fell into one of several categories: some had a strong focus on the influence of the landscape (a familiar New Zealand preoccupation); some sought to explore the influence of Māori building traditions (as a New Zealand architectural point of difference); and some wanted to display Kiwi vernacular forms and materials (as an expression of indigenized modernity). Several proposals had post-earthquake Christchurch as their subject matter, and a few others were interested in innovative pre-fab and timber technologies.

An overt concern with national identity was a common trait, perhaps unsurprisingly. Koolhaas’ Biennale theme, after all, encouraged national exhibitors to show what was special about their country’s architecture.

Also typical was the decision to take a survey approach to the exhibition content. Again, this was not surprising, given Koolhaas’ temporal parameters – a hundred years of modernity. Exhibition creators – and this applied to the Biennale as a whole – had to make a basic choice: say a little about a lot, or a lot about a little. That is, track a century’s worth of architecture, or focus on a moment within that sweep of time. Most exhibitors chose to go
broad, not deep.

Six submissions for the role of Creative Director were shortlisted; the finalists were given three weeks to develop their proposals and re-submit them to the jury.

Imprints, Jasmax Architects

Euan Mac Kellar, Matthew Glubb (principals in charge); Patrick Loo, Arnika Blount (creative team leaders); Jun Tsujimoto, Mark Craven, Laura Cooke, Callum Dowie, Julian Harris, Kenneth Li, Ludovic Bacon (creative team).

Noting that New Zealand, as a nation of immigrants and “cultural implants”, has “always been under the influences of globalization”, the Jasmax team proposed an exhibition showing how buildings “can become meeting points for diverse ideologies and construction methodologies”. The proposal centred on new ecclesiastical architecture because “spiritual structures often act as both a focus of tradition and an expression of future aspirations for their communities”. The Jasmax team said they would choose 15 religious or “spiritual” buildings to illustrate their proposition. Exhibition design elements included a “soundscape”, a projected ceiling, and an “eclectic congregation of furniture”.

Last, Loneliest, Loveliest

David Mitchell (Creative Director), Julie Stout, Ginny Pedlow, Julian Mitchell, Claire Natusch, Sara Lee (Mitchell & Stout Architects, Auckland);Professor Mike Austin (Unitec); Rau Hoskins (DesignTribe and Unitec); Rick Pearson (Pearson & Associates); Frances Cooper (Athfield Architects).

David Mitchell’s response to Rem Koolhaas’ theme was to argue that there is a tradition of Pacific architecture in New Zealand that was not erased by modernity. The survival of this tradition, and its interaction with modern architecture – a matter of cultural exchange, rather than absorption – was the focus of Mitchell’s proposition. The exhibition design centred on a tent or whare-like structure with fabric panels imprinted with images of structures dating from the contact period in the Pacific to contemporary buildings such as Auckland Art Gallery and the Christchurch ‘Cardboard’ Cathedral.

Point of Distance

Creative Directors: Sharon Jensen (then Tennent+Brown Architects, Wellington); Justine Clark (architecture writer and researcher, Melbourne); Catherine Griffiths (graphic designer: Studio Catherine Griffiths, Auckland).

To illustrate the forging of New Zealand architectural identity through encounters with modernity, the creative team proposed to trace “twelve stories of architectural encounter”. These stories might take as their subject matter buildings or careers or debates, or materials and methods of fabrication. Taking account of the modest exhibition budget (including transport to the other side of the world), the Creative  Directors proposed a paper architecture exhibition of archival images, drawings, texts and mappings that would tell the “twelve stories”.

Lost and Founded

Creative Directors: Jessica Halliday (architectural historian and writer, Christchurch); Luke Allen (GHD Ltd, Wellington); Barnaby Bennett (architectural researcher and publisher, Christchurch).

This entry married Rem Koolhaas’ concerns with issues of modernity and “erasure” with the story of post-earthquake Christchurch. The proposal was to present the lost buildings of Christchurch, the emergence of transitional architecture in the city (including “gapfiller” projects), and the advent of new buildings in the city. The exhibition would make considerable use of photographs, interactive digital panoramas and 4D (that is, including timeframes) representations of Christchurch.

The New Zealand Way

Creative team: Chris Kelly (Architecture Workshop, Wellington); Paul Walker (University of Melbourne); Trish Clark (gallerist, Auckland); Barnaby Bennett (architectural researcher and publisher, Christchurch).

The creative team proposed to both examine the canon of New Zealand architecture, through images of 54 significant buildings, and to subvert that canon – in the New Zealand way, perhaps – through the ubiquity of these images. The intention was to make a virtue of New Zealand’s “homelessness” – i.e., it’s lack of a permanent pavilion in Venice – by taking the exhibition to the streets, and placing the images in cafes and bookshops, even hanging them from the Venetian washing lines. Why 54 buildings? That’s (roughly) the number of cards in a pack, and packs of cards could be souvenirs of the New Zealand exhibition. Films, projections, seminars and a web/blog would be also be included in “The New Zealand Way”.

Trade & Exchange

Creative Directors: Giles Reid (Giles Reid Architects, London); Jason Whiteley (Matheson Whitely, London). Creative team: Max Lozarch (graphic designer, New York); Blair Johnston (Warren and Mahoney, Christchurch); Simona Casarotto (Fondazione Claudio Buziol, Venice); Danae Mossman (Hopkinson Mossmam Gallery, Auckland); Francis Upritchard (artist, London).

This Christchurch-focused proposal centred on three large timber models of buildings in the city that were destroyed or affected by the 2011 earthquake. The directors wrote that “the intention is to design and stage an exhibition that highlights the importance of creative dialogue between contemporary architecture and the past though an intimate comparison of three existing works.” The exhibition would present a craft-based approach to architecture – a Christchurch trait since its settlement – and allude to the city’s neo-Gothic and post-War modernist architecture.